Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the young armorer on the set of the ill-fated movie “Rust,” was the only defendant to make an appearance – albeit virtual via Google Meet – at Friday’s preliminary hearing in New Mexico, where she pleaded not guilty in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
She was not visible to those tuning into the New Mexico court’s YouTube channel, but Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney, Jason Bowles, Santa Fe district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies and Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer were.
The main revelation of the 10-minute session was judge in the case agreeing to Bowles’ request that his client be allowed to carry a firearm. The case is anchored to the issue of weapons negligence on the set of “Rust” which resulted in the Oct. 21, 2021 death of Hutchins.
What did Hannah Gutierrez-Reed say in court?
Gutierrez-Reed did not audibly respond when Sommer explained her constitutional rights, although Bowles confirmed that his client was aware of them.
Midway through the session, Bowles asked the judge to ensure that Gutierrez-Reed, who remains free on her own recognizance, could keep a firearm at home. He said this was important because his client received numerous threatening calls and was granted a restraining order against a stalker after state officials released personal details about her in the aftermath of the shooting.
District attorney Carmack-Altwies argued against the request, saying that “sloppy” care of firearms on the part of Gutierrez-Reed were at the center of the case. Hutchins was killed because a live bullet somehow made its way in the chamber of the gun handed to “Rust” star and producer Baldwin during rehearsal.
Bowles bristled at the use of the word “sloppy,” as he maintains his client tried numerous times to improve on-set safety but was rebuffed. After the exchange by the two lawyers, Sommer granted Gutierrez-Reed to right to keep a firearm in her home for self-protection.
The judge also ordered her not to have any contact with witnesses who might testify as part of the case.
Why didn’t Alec Baldwin make a court appearance?
On Thursday, Baldwin, who along with Gutierrez-Reed has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins’s death, exercised his right to waive his appearance while entering a plea of not guilty.
The judge agreed to allow Baldwin to stay free on his “personal recognizance.” Stipulations, however, include not possessing firearms or dangerous weapons, as well as maintaining contact with his defense attorney and not consuming alcohol.
Sommers addressed the issue of Baldwin’s eventual first appearance in court, whether in person or more likely virtual, and pushed that event into sometime in March.
What are possible penalties in the ‘Rust’ involuntary manslaughter case?
Initially, the two charges of involuntary manslaughter against both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed carried up to five years in jail due to a special firearms charge provision. The accidental shooting resulted not only in the death of Hutchins but also in the injury of “Rust” director Joel Silva.
But after Baldwin’s lawyers successfully argued that this charge was tied to a law that came into effect in 2022, that is after the shooting, the new penalty is up to 18 months in prison.
What do legal experts have to say about the ‘Rust’ hearing?
Legal experts were “not surprised” the judge allowed Gutierrez-Reed to keep a firearm at home.
“Judges have a lot of discretion to fashion the terms of pretrial release, says former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani, president of Los Angeles-based West Coast Trial Lawyers. “(Gutierrez-Reed) has no known criminal history or no known history of intentional violent conduct, so I’m not surprised.”
But Rahmani adds that as the armorer on the set, a job whose explicit purpose is to render prop weapons safe, Gutierrez-Reed has “more legal exposure than Baldwin. … Of everyone involved, she has the greatest potential to be found culpable. She could serve time in jail.”
Although Baldwin has yet to appear at a hearing, Rahmani believes his lawyers may be looking to take the case to trial. They are likely eyeing the deal cut with prosecutors by Dave Halls, the assistant director on “Rust” who handed Baldwin the loaded weapon despite calling out “Cold!,” which confirms the weapon is safe.
“(Baldwin) could be acquitted outright, or the jury could possibly hang. If he loses, his lawyers could argue he should get no time in jail, because of the deal that prosecutors reached with Dave Halls that has kept him out of jail,” he says. “Judges don’t like sentencing disparities, so I don’t think Baldwin would be sentenced to the max of 18 months behind bars, even if he is convicted.”
Contributing: Associated Press
The latest in the ‘Rust’ shooting case
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Rust’ case: Armorer can be armed at home for protection, judge says